The Lone Ranger
Box Shot
The Lone Ranger
Platform: NES
Publisher: Konami
Designer: Konami
Genre: Action/Adventure/Shooting
Players: 1
Published Date 1991
Reviewed by: Bryan Cord

When video game manufacturers pay good money to base a video game on a licensed character from a movie, TV show, or similar media form, two rules seem to generally apply. The first is that said license will probably be whatever is insanely popular with 5 to 10 year old boys at the moment, which makes sense (after all, they want to make money). The second is that the game probably won't be very good, which also makes sense if you take the cynical viewpoint (the companies figure that the license alone will move so many units that gameplay is secondary and not worth bothering with). Hordes of games fitting this formula were released for the NES (and nearly every other console known to Man), so many that Konami's Lone Ranger, released late and minimally marketed, was easily lost in the shuffle. this is a danged shame (The word "dang" almost fits here, considering I'm reviewing a game based on a TV show about the Old West), because The Lone Ranger instantly breaks both the molds described somewhere in the last paragraph.

I've seen some strange picks of licenses to use in video games, but Konami's choice of Palladium Entertainment's Lone Ranger character definitely ranks right up there among the strangest. With the last of the Lone Ranger movies having been released more than four decades ago (I could be wrong on this, so I'm being purposely vague about dates), I can't imagine any of the kids today (or ten-odd years ago, when this was released) have (had) the slightest idea who Tonto, Silver, or any of the gang are. Couple that with Konami's nonexistent American marketing, and one can see why the Lone Ranger was probably doomed from the get-go. At any rate, the game centers around the various misadventures of a certain masked gunman as he travels the Old West in search of the outlaw who killed his family and every other Texas Ranger, including Walker. On the way, he engages in various sub-quests, helps people out, and is generally a model action hero in every respect.

The game is laid out in a manner loosely resembling an RPG- you wander the map, enter towns, talk to people, buy stuff, and (of course) kill many, many outlaws en route to the final confrontation with Butch Cavendish, scourge of the West.

Essentially, the Lone Ranger consists of action from four different viewpoints. When the game starts, the screen will open onto an overhead-view representation of what amounts to the World Map, where trusty Tonto will appear to clue you in on where you are and why you're there (this happens at the beginning of every "mission"). Control is pretty limited here; your character can enter various locations (ranging from towns to enemy strongholds) or engage bands of wandering outlaws, but that's about it. Upon entering a town (or intersecting a bunch of outlaws), perspective shifts to a kind of first-person isometric view similar to Capcom's hit arcade game Gun.Smoke. No matter what the locale, bad guys will most likely assault the Masked Man immediately, using a variety of weapons. He can, in turn, strike back using his fists, six-shooter (which can also fire nasty Silver bullets), or screen-clearing sticks of TNT. Nearly all rustlers will cough up money when they die, but a rare few will drop extra bullets or even extra life points.

While the "wandering outlaw" stages are essentially run-and-blast affairs, there's a bit more to do other than kill people in the towns. Buildings abound, and many can be entered and vital information (or stupid inanities, most likely) gleaned from what the inhabitants tell you. There's also usually a gun shop (buy weapon upgrades and more bullets), a doctor (life refills will run you $50), and various little side-games where you can gamble away your hard-earned cash. Women also walk the streets, but rarely have more to say than "I have no idea" (I bet the feminists loved this game) and seem to be there chiefly as an annoyance (accidentally shooting a woman will cost you $50 and five life points). There's also a railroad in some towns, which will cart you to some other town in the general area for a modest fee. While the tempo of the action in towns is usually pretty low (outlaws rarely attack in groups of more than two), they're the places to replenish life and supplies and to talk to people, which is essential because it's the only way to trigger certain events into occurring.

The last part (and occasionally some other bits) of every mission tends to be laid out in a side-scrolling format highly reminiscent of Konami's classic Castlevania series. The weapons are exactly the same as in the town scenes (punch, gun, TNT) and the enemies are largely the same (outlaws and banditos), but the shift in perspective, excellent control (all the control in this game is near-perfect, while I'm on the subject), and nice combination of outlaw-blasting and platform-hopping (which, thankfully, usually doesn't involve bottomless pits) spice the game up quite a bit. A few of the action bits feature Silver, who you'll ride while shooting other similarly-mounted outlaws in a frenetic auto-scrolling sequence highly reminiscent of...hmmm...actually, the closest thing I can liken it to is the "running" stages of Sega's obscure Alien Storm arcade (and Genny, I believe) game. It's fun though; you'll like it. Now then..where was I? Ahhh...anyway, the end of most of these side-scrolling sequences feature a boss of some kind. The bosses are fairly unimaginative and are usually minimal variations on the local flavor of lawbreaker, the only real difference being that they can take quite a bit more punishment (maybe those leather pants are actually Kevlar?) The bosses can be fairly irritating at first (your Ranger can't jump very high, so dodging bullets can be slightly frustrating), but most follow fairly predictable patterns and can be mown down after a few tries, if that.

As entertaining as the other viewpoints are, The Lone Ranger really shines when a specific task or mission brings the Masked Man to a cave or specific building. Here, action shifts to a first-person "dungeon-view" perspective similar to Wizardry or parts of the Ultima games. While this in itself is unremarkable (and annoying, if you ask me), this cart's got one more trick up its holster here (alright, enough with the bad western puns already.) Wandering the maze and minding your own business, you are suddenly accosted on all sides by outlaws! The only thing to do, obviously, is kill every single one of them. This is where the fun begins- grabbing your d-pad crosshair (or Zapper, ProBeam, or other light gun), you and the Ranger proceed to blast the crap out of seemingly endless numbers of outlaws. A directional indicator flashes to tell you what direction the baddies are attacking from (like the snowball event in Ski or Die, in yet another incongruous parallel); pressing B in controller mode or simply shooting the indicator in gun mode will point the Ranger in the proper direction to start slaughtering outlaws. Bandits will run out in front of you, hide behind corners, or pop out unexpectedly, but all will either shoot at you or chuck knives and TNT (which can be shot or deflected). Fortunately, most are willing to wait a decent amount of time before doing so, leaving ample time to fill their craniums with lead before they can do you any harm. Trigger-happiness is tough to stave off in this mode (especially if you happen to be using a gun), but with each shot costing you approximately $1.65 in bullets, you'd better not go nuts. At any rate, this first-person exploration mode, interspersed with frequent blast-a-thon segments, is excellent and very well-executed. Although the sum total of all the elements of The Lone Ranger is what makes it a great game, the single most entertaining sub-games, by far, are the "cave" segments. My only gripe is that they don't appear often enough.

Throughout the myriad perspectives, there are a few features that remain constant. As stated before, the control is consistently tight throughout the game (with the possible exception of the obviously tile-based map screens). The graphics are also fairly consistent; the backgrounds are fairly drab, but the sprites look exceptional (even in the tiny town scenes). The sounds are actually pretty good, featuring lots of digitized voice samples (including an amusing "hi ho silver!" at the end of each level) and the music ranges from forgettable (map screens) to truly great (the pseudobanjo of the shooting gallery game). Flaws are minimal, but there are a few minor hitches in the layout of the game. Dying is something to be avoided at all costs, since death anywhere in the "mission" (some of which take a half-hour or more to complete) will get you plunked back at the beginning, whether you died immediately or made it all the way to the boss. Obviously, this is a tad frustrating. Passwords are available (and absolutely necessary, given the RPG-sized length of the cart), but only at the conclusion of each "mission"; progress through a portion of any given mission cannot be saved. Figuring out the order to talk to people in order to make some vital location appear on the map is also frustrating, but most RPGs tend to suffer from similar problems.

Overall though, the game play of the Lone Ranger is top-notch; fans of Castlevania, RPGs, shooting things, or just plain old great video games won't want to pass this one up.